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How does tuberculosis affect the body?

Daniel R. Spogen, MD
Family Medicine
Tuberculosis (TB) can affect different parts of the body. TB is caused by a bacterium that typically affects the lungs, but can also affect other areas such as the brain, kidney, or spine. Some people who have been exposed to TB have latent TB, which does not cause them to have symptoms. The bacteria are inactive, but the TB can become active in the future. People with active TB often have a bad cough for more than three weeks and may have chest pain and cough up blood.

Tuberculosis (TB) bacteria can lie dormant in the body for weeks or even many years, causing no illness in 90 to 95 percent of infected people. However, in 5 to 10 percent of cases, the bacteria start to multiply and destroy tissue. Tuberculosis usually strikes the lungs, and eventually a hole can develop in the patient's lung. Air or fluid may accumulate between the chest wall and lungs, causing the patient to have chest pain and feel short of breath. In some cases, the bacteria may spread through the body and damage other organs. If not treated, tuberculosis can be fatal.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.